Blood Brothers

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Running at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for the next two weeks, Blood Brother’s remains as deeply moving and powerfully relevant as ever.

Willy Russell’s award-winning epic tale tells the tragic story of twin boys separated at birth only to be reunited by a twist of fate, a mother haunted by a dark secret and the heart-breaking reality of social depression. As they boys grow up on opposite side of the track the draw the timeless themes of inequality, social class and mental health struggles remain sadly as relevant today as the day it was written. Despite the though subject matter, Blood Brothers is by far one of the wittiest scripts of any musical with laugh out loud moments perfectly measured against the heartache.

Taking on the lead role is Lyn Paul, who first stepped into Mrs Johnstone’s shoes back in 1997 when she made her musical theatre debut in the West End production. She makes for a compelling and impressive Mrs Johnstone, with a depth of emotion that tugs on your heart strings, making you feel every ounce of her heartfelt pain.

Matthew Craig is exceptional as the ever-present and ominous narrator, a dark and menacing reminder of the shady deeds of the mother’s pact; he has a strong and foreboding presence on stage. With just the right amount of Scouse rasp his harmonies with Lyn Paul are simply beautiful.

Veterans of their respective roles as ill-fated twins Mickey and Eddie, Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson captivate the audience with performances that will have you howling with laughter one moment and reaching for the tissues the next. Sean Jones gives a masterclass in character acting, lighting up the stay as care-free young Mickey making the journey he goes on, to broken and defeated young man in Act II all the more devastating.

The ensemble cast are impressively strong, delivering Willy Russell’s witty script with fresh energy as they take on multiple roles with gusto. Special mention must go to Sarah Jane Buckley, Danielle Corlass and Daniel Taylor who each shine as Mrs Lyons, Linda and Sammy respectively.

Blood Brothers has the ability to take you on a roller coaster of emotion from joyful highs to heart aching lows. The tear filled finale one of the most moving fifteen minutes of any musical, repeatedly followed night after night by a full standing ovation, a testament to the enduring appeal of this powerful production.

It is a story that will stay with you long after the final curtain, a timeless classic which no doubts cements Will Russell as one of Britain’s best loved and most talented storytellers. It is a show that appeals to all ages from eager school groups to audiences returning for the second, third, fourth visit and more, each and every audience member stunned into silence. The phrase ‘must-see’ is often banded about but in the case of Blood Brothers it is entirely true, a powerful, captivating and entirely moving production.

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 26th May rickets available here.

Hedda Gabler


Following on from a much celebrated sold-out run at the National Theatre earlier this year this new version of Ibsen’s iconic Hedda Gabler arrives at the Lowry until Saturday 4th November.

Reimagined by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Patrick Marber and directed by Ivo van Hove, also an Olivier and Tony award-winner, the production is modernised and accessible yet still stays true to Ibsen’s original work.

Newlywed Hedda (Lizzy Watts) is bored, admitting she ‘settled’ because she felt old, the absolute last thing she actually feels by this marriage and her life however is settled. She’s retuned to a place that suffocating and soulless, a new home where nothing yet has it’s place, certainly not Hedda.

Overcome constantly by the desire to control and take charge of everyone and everything around her Hedda thrives on the destruction of harmony. Constantly battling the demons within, Hedda’s release seems to come from hurting, upsetting and even destroying others. She can be cruel yet is clearly damaged, sharp yet desperately vulnerable, wild yet ultimately trapped.


Hedda wants to be free, she wants the freedom she sees men have yet everyone wants a piece of her, they want to touch her, to be with her, to dictate what she does with her body, to claim ownership. Marber’s focus on Hedda’s relationships offers a real depth to this piece as an audience we try to understand and even sympathise with the damaged, manipulative and often cruel Hedda. She tempts the alcoholic to drink, twists concern for mistrust and family love for suffocating meddling.

Lizzy Watts portrays Hedda beautifully, she shines in the cleverly reimagined production, she is feisty yet vulnerable, struggling with demons which consume her entirely, she is cruel yet clever captivating the audience entirely as she physically embodies the torment and complexity of Hedda, she looks uncomfortable in her own skin as the world weighs down all around her and her inner turmoil threatens to consume. Supported by an incredibly strong cast this is a truly impressive performance.

National Theatre continue to raise the bar high with this bold, atmospheric and entirely engaging production. Jan Versweyveld’s set and lighting design are both superb, the apartment is a sparsely furnished box, which we never leave, almost becoming asylum like as the piece develops and further illustration of Hedda’s confinement and absolute boredom with life where even the timid Thea has the courage to follow her heart. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” plays between scenes, a further gentle nod to Hedda’s dissatisfaction with her lot.


National Theatre entirely succeed in making a play familiar to so many feel entirely fresh and unpredictable. Powerful, intense and utterly captivating.

On at The Lowry until Saturday 4th November tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/hedda-gabler

42nd Street

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The tingles begin moment the orchestra strike up, as the infectious joy of this dazzling production floods through the audience. The curtain raises just enough for us to see the origin of the thunderous sound as masses of hoofers tap their way through one almighty audition piece. This show within a show straight from the off lets us know we’re here for a good time so prepare for some magnificent razzle dazzle!

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The storyline is simple, budding Broadway star and provincial New Jersey girl Peggy Sawyer, has arrived to make it and make it big, timed perfectly as respected Director Julian Marsh is going all out with a new production, Pretty Lady, right in the middle of the Great Depression. Forced to cast Dorothy Brock, a difficult diva who conveniently is backed by her rather affluent Sugar Daddy, Marsh sets about bringing the glamour back to Broadway. Our zero to hero story really gets the chance to take flight once Brock manages to break her ankle just before opening night and our wannabe leading lady Peggy is waiting in the wings, now what are the chances of that!

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This production embraces fun and extravagance, Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the book for original 1980 Broadway show directs this London revival and gives a firm nod to the 1933 smash hit film delivering all the glitz and glamour you could wish for. Clare Halse gives an outstanding performance as Peggy Sawyer, she is mesmerising, her dancing extraordinary. Instantly likeable (although not to her fellow chorus girls) Halse has great charisma and wonderful comic timing, but it’s her spellbinding moves that really make this a knockout performance.

Sheena Easton delivers diva with sass, her vocals are strong particularly beautiful during her performance of Boulevard of Broken Dreams which was added to the show to specifically showcase Easton’s talents.

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The hugely epic ensemble tap routines choreographed by Gower Champion and Randy Skinner are what really make this production fly, with sumptuous costumes and clever set design from Roger Kirk and Douglas W. Schmidt, 42nd Street is a visual delight. The cast literally drip in bling and sequins with all colours of the rainbow on shimmering display. With mesmerising show stoppers such as Lullaby of Broadway, We’re In the Money and Keep Young and Beautiful 42nd Street whacks you in the face with big hitters and some serious wow moments. Tom Lister’s commanding performance as Julian Marsh is convincing, his voice perfectly suits the score. Stuart Neal gives a great performance as Billy Lawlor, versatile and oh so talented. Special mention must also go to Jasna Ivir as Maggie Jones and Christopher Howell as Bert Barry.

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42nd Street offers a couple of hours of pure escapism fun, it is uplifting, vibrant and full of joy, I literally smiled all the way home, whilst slightly berating myself for quitting those tap lessons aged 10. 42nd Street has got it all, dazzling costumes, stunning sets and knock out performances from a seriously talented cast, if this show was offered on prescription there would be a queue from here to Broadway!

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Tickets available via – http://www.42ndstreetmusical.co.uk

THEATRE ROYAL DRURY LANE, CATHERINE STREET, LONDON, WC2B 5JF

BRB – Cinderella

brb-5Birmingham Royal Ballet triumphantly returns to the Lowry with David Bintley’s magical production of the classic and much loved fairy-tale ballet, Cinderella. Originally performed in 2010 and broadcast by the BBC as their 2010 Christmas ballet, Bintley’s award winning production features the complete original score by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev delivered superbly by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Staying true to the Cinderella story, we meet the wicked stepmother, Cinderella’s two ugly sisters (who we of course love to hate), as well as the handsome prince and not forgetting her magically gifted fairy Godmother.

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We begin in the dark and dank depths of Cinderella’s kitchen dwelling where a bare foot Cinderella has been cast by her wicked stepmother and ugly sisters, her only purpose in life seemingly to serve them. Despite the bleak and depressing surroundings Jenna Roberts ensures Cinderella shines and her joyous and delicate performance is enchanting. She moves with poise and perfection, light on her feet and full of endearing charisma.

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The story telling in this production, as with all Birmingham Royal Ballet productions is wonderfully clear allowing for a beautifully paced performance where we move effortlessly from one piece to the next, eager for more. Complimenting this exceptional narrative is an impressive set and deliciously extravagant costumes both designed by John F. Macfarlane, familiar to audiences as designer of the BRB’s hugely popular Nutcracker. The excellent narrative also allows for some great comedy acting from Skinny (Samara Dowes) and Dumpy (Laura Purkiss), the ugly sisters. Both excel in their roles and their acting is wonderful, offering the audience laugh out loud moments each time they enter the stage they are a fantastic fun and absolutely adored by the audience.

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Perfectly partnering Jenna Roberts’ Cinderella is handsome Prince, William Bracewell. Strong and athletic Bracewell is perfection in the role and the two of them glide beautifully together, their pas de deux performed at the grand ball is utterly mesmerising, they delivery of Bintley’s choreography is precise and striking. As the clock strikes twelve the dreamlike scene begins to crumble as Cinderella dashes from the scene leaving only her sparkly slipper, cue a highly entertaining hunt for the wearer of the shoe.

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Birmingham Royal Ballet succeeds once more in making a production which is not only enchanting and utterly thrilling but accessible and appealing to all. It is wonderful to see a diverse audience from very young children to those senior in age all totally captivated by this stunning production.

Cinderella is a work of magic, enchanting and sublime, an absolute delight.

On at The Lowry until 4th March

http://www.thelowry.com/event/birmingham-royal-ballet-cinderella

 

 

Funny Girl

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Hot on the heels of it’s much adored, critically acclaimed not to mention record breaking West End run, Funny Girl embarks on a 22 city UK and Ireland tour with Manchester being its first port of call. Boasting some of the most recognisable songs in entertainment history, Don’t Rain On My Parade and People, the hugely iconic show tells the story of the delightful Fanny Brice (Sheridan Smith) a lovable comedic singer and dancer striving for a leap across the water from Brooklyn to Broadway.

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The recent West End revival was the first since the original 1964 Broadway production transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre with the one and only Barbara Streisand who then went on to immortalise the role on the silver screen, winning an Academy Award on her way. Big shoes to fill you might think? Enter Sheridan Smith! What a talent!

For anyone wondering how Fanny could be played by anyone other than Streisand wonder no more, book yourselves a ticket and see for yourself, Smith is quite simply perfection. Her characterisation and comedic timing is sublime, you can literally feel the audience fall more and more in love with her with every line she utters and every kooky facial expression she pulls, she is a true star. While she plays the clown perfectly she also has sass and class in bucket loads, she is utterly captivating. She gives the gutsiest of performances from belting out the iconic Don’t Rain On My Parade with heart and determination to her stunning rendition of The Music That Makes Me Dance beautifully tender and deeply moving. You literally cannot take your eyes off her. A personal highlight for me was You Are Woman, I Am Man, where she finally falls under Arnstein’s clutches, although who is seducing who is debatable, I had tears of laughter by the end of this riotous scene.

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Smith is joined by a fine cast who add to the joy of this brilliant production, the dashingly handsome Nick Arnstein, Fanny’s gambling chancer of a husband is played wonderfully by Chris Peluso. The show also has many impressive chorus numbers which are beautifully choreographed by Lynne Page and delivered with precision by the hardworking ensemble. The trio of Fanny’s Mother and neighbours, Mrs Brice, Mrs Strakosh and Mrs Meeker are terrifically entertaining (Rachel Izen, Myra Sands, Zoe Ann Brown). With stunning costumes from Matthew Wright and set design from Michael Pavelka, Funny Girl delivers everything you would hope for and more. It is no surprise that the audience leap to their feet during the finale, this show and Smith truly deserving of the full standing ovation they received.

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If Manchester didn’t feel lucky enough to be the opening stop on the tour then the we must be pinching ourselves knowing that Funny Girl complete with Sheridan Smith will be returning to close the tour in August, tickets are available now but will no doubt be snapped up so act quick! Funny Girl is just magical, an absolute triumph! A five star masterpiece!

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/funny-girl/palace-theatre-manchester/

Palace Theatre – Saturday 18th February – Saturday 25th February 2017

Returning Monday 7th August – Saturday 19th August 2017

 

Dark Hearts of Space – The Lowry

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Dark Hearts of Space, realised and perform by Dasha Rush & Stanislav Glazov explores offered visuals and sounds which filled the stage as the cinematic images were visualised through a double screen. Projectors filled the syc back stage and a huge gauze screen up stage giving a 3 dimensional effect which was was highly engaging. The 40 minute performance displayed a way to escape, a space to expand your mind, it was ever so cool.

The experience was a visual play of many different black hole creations which credits the visual Graphic Designer Stanislav Glazov the male part of this charming duo, as later in after show talk we hear that the technology and artistry is extremely advanced. To an untrained eye, it was a little disparate. The shift of ideas felt more of a scratch performance making the whole experience very open ended and non-directional and I didn’t feel a connectivity to couple that with a philosophical notion or spiritual notion, the abstract determined non attachment to the ideas that were playing out.

Dasha Rush played an electronic sound score that washed over the subconscious mind and supported the visual lead, I found this quite meditative. A unique piece in which the cosmic space created in this collaboration was at times spellbinding.

 Guest reviewer, Kate Jackson

 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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Last month Amazon Prime launched Jeremy Clarkson and Co’s latest offering, The Grand Tour: which in effect is three big kids getting into scrapes at home and abroad with cars. Well that isn’t too dissimilar to the plot for the Ian Fleming, penned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. However that’s where the similarities end and quite frankly the world is a better place for it.

The 1968 film version is as much a part of Christmas as the Queen’s speech, turkey dinner and indigestion so it seems only right that this much loved classic is The Lowry’s big show for Christmas wonderfully brought to life the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

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Set in 1919 we find the rather eccentric widowed father, Caractacus Potts trying to forage enough money to save a bent and broken race-car from the scrap heap. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has become the beloved plaything of his two children Jeremy and Jemima. However the family soon find themselves in great danger as the evil Baron and Baroness Bombast of Vulgaria also have designs on the former Grand-Prix winning race car: dispatching a couple of dodgy spies, the might of the Vulgarian navy and the truly terrifying Childcatcher. Can the Potts family save themselves and their beloved car? Will they all live happily after? Here’s hoping!

Director James Brining has the monumental task of transferring the magic of the film onto the stage and it’s fair to say he pulls it off magnificently. Aided and abetted by designer Simon Higlett and video designer Simon Wainwright, Higlett’s set design is wonderful: from the Potts family windmill house to the Baron’s fortress – they are all stunning. Wainwright’s video is first class as it manages seamlessly to transfer us from one location to the next: one minute we’re on an idyllic drive through the countryside and the next you’re involved in a gun battle at sea.

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As we all know the car is the star of the show but it is supported by some fine performances. Jason Manford in the lead as Caractacus Potts is likable as the doting father, he brings warmth and charm to the role: sometimes he grins and gurns a bit too much, maybe he was channelling his inner Dick Van Dyke, but that was Mary Poppins not Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. However Manford’s main strength lies in his singing voice: he is a very talented singer indeed highlighted in the beautiful Hushabye Mountain. Charlotte Wakefield is on good form as the fabulously named Truly Scrumptious bringing a touch of spirit and zest to the role. The on stage chemistry between the two is a joy to watch, especially during Doll on a Music Box. The Potts children are delightful, played by three teams rotating nightly they give a beautiful performance.

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There are also fine performances from Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as the Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran, both are great fun and very nearly steal the show as they get all the best lines and lots of laughs. There are some jokes which are pretty near the knuckle but will fly over the younger audience members heads and amuse the adults; they had both audience members young and old alike howling with laughter. Claire Sweeney is fabulous as Baroness Bomburst with her exaggerated accent and almighty performance of The Bombie Samba. Phill Jupitus offers a bizarre turn as Baron Bomburst: flip-flopping between over exuberance and looking completely disinterested: frequently breaking between his over the top Vulgarian accent to a dead-pan delivery. It’s not abundantly clear what he is trying to achieve by this but it certainly is what can best be described as a ‘Marmite’ performance. Jos Vantyler is outstanding as the Childcatcher, helped along with a wonderful piece of lighting from Tim Mitchell; we have a villain as wicked, as sinister and even more terrifying than the original.

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There were a few technical difficulties on the night which stopped the show for roughly 10 minutes which upset the momentum slightly, however the cast carried on like true professionals. The main problem with the show is its pacing: acts one and two are quite bloated and do become slightly drawn out at times. Whilst the ending seems slightly rushed with the payoff not justifying the lengthy build up. Overall this a good solid family fun show, filled with fun and adventure, it just needed a few more thrills and spills, it is probably not suitable for young children as it will not keep them engaged for the duration of its running time.

Judging by the impromptu audience clap-along as soon the signature Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tune is played there is plenty of love for our “fine four fender friend”, she just needs to heed the warning of those motorway signs about tiredness.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is on at The Lowry Theatre till the 15th Jan 2017

http://www.thelowry.com/event/chitty-chitty-bang-bang